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Bed space disrupts Covid measures

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MDOLO—The capacity and enrolment numbers are not balancing

The bed space crisis in some secondary schools in the country is forcing institutions to snub some Standard Operating Procedures developed to fight the Covid pandemic. PATIENCE LUNDA writes.

In Malawi, school enrolment is not in tandem with the available space. This results in congestion, especially in boarding schools where resources remain limited.

Our spot checks in secondary schools across the country revealed that most Covid preventive measures such as washing hands and wearing masks are being followed but congestion remains a challenge.

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At Mzuzu Government Secondary School, for instance, over 30 pairs of learners share a bed each following an increase the enrolment numbers from the recommended 480 to 660 learners.

The school’s head teacher, Vincent Mdolo, admitted the challenge has become more pronounced with the emergence of the Covid pandemic, which requires people to social distance.

While stating other preventive measures are being followed, he is of the view that increasing infrastructure at the institution would be a permanent solution.

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“The capacity and enrolment numbers are not balancing because government’s priority is to see every child attain secondary education,” Mdolo said.

Dedza Secondary School is another school facing the challenge. It has an enrolment of 650 students.

Head teacher for the school, Joseph Chioza, said management resorted to fixing broken beds after noticing the challenge of bed space at the school.

Meanwhile, all students that have no beds have been given mats and mattresses as they wait for the beds to be fixed.

But Chioza was quick to say other preventive measures were being followed.

“We are working on the bed space challenge by fixing broken ones so that we achieve social distancing in hostels,” he said.

At Mzimba Secondary School, the bed space challenge is not new.

Isaac Daka, the school’s deputy head teacher, said they had decided to accommodate learners in flats to deal with the congestion problem.

“We are trying to split up the students by accommodating them in flats that are meant for hostel patrons. We are also involving prefects in ensuring that students follow the Covid preventive measures,” Daka said.

Civil Society Education Coalition Executive Director Benedicto Kondowe described the situation as worrisome, saying students are at a greater risk of contracting the virus.

Kondowe said government seemed to have had no clear plans on how to address the challenges, saying the only hope is in the recent midterm budget review where the ministry has been given additional funds which might help to ease the challenge.

“From the word go, when government decided to reopen the schools, it was very clear that there was no clear plan of addressing congestion challenges.

“Perhaps, the additional resources that have been allocated to the Ministry of Education will be channelled towards addressing the problem,” Kondowe said.

Concurring with Kondowe, education commentator Steve Sharra said the Covid pandemic could not be eradicated if the boarding schools. situation persisted in the

Co-chairperson of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid, Wilfred Nkhoma, referred us to the Ministry of Education on the matter of accommodation in public boarding schools but said the education cluster has taken up the issue of decongesting classrooms through the provision of temporary classrooms and recruitment of temporary teachers.

Malawi needs about K2.85 trillion to construct 949 secondary schools at the rate of K3 billion per school to double the transition rate of students from primary to secondary schools from 37.73 percent to 76 percent in the country.

Staggering the construction of the schools across a five-year period, the country would require K569 billion per year.

The need for additional secondary schools in the country sounded loud after Education Minister Agnes NyaLonje told Malawians that there was a “severe shortage of secondary school spaces” which had led to low selection of learners who passed Standard 8 examinations to secondary schools this year.

Before the reopening of schools last month, the Ministry of Education advised schools in the country to observe all Covid preventive measures by, among other things, finding creative means and ways of making sure that every student complies.

In February this year, the ministry revealed that 640 primary and secondary schools had no access to potable water.

Out of the 640, about 440 were primary schools while 200 were secondary schools, and, according to NyaLonje, boreholes were being drilled in the affected schools.

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